I am fully aware of the excellent work of Down Syndrome Ireland, having met with a number of representatives from that organization last week (3 July 2019).
We had a very fruitful discussion across a range of issues affecting children with Down Syndrome in the education system, and I very much look forward to cooperating further with them into the future.
Regarding the "See and Learn" programme however, the policy of my Department is not to endorse particular educational interventions or initiatives above others in the absence of full evaluation.
My Department's policy aims to ensure that all children with Special Needs, including children with Down Syndrome, can have access to an education appropriate to their needs, preferably in mainstream school settings.
Funding from my Department for special education provision in 2019 will amount to approximately €1.9 billion, equivalent to almost one fifth of the gross overall current allocation for education and training. The funding includes:
- Up to 15,950 Special Needs Assistant (SNA) posts in primary, post primary and special schools by the end of 2019, assisting children with special educational needs who also have additional and significant care needs arising from a disability.
- On 27th March I announced the trialling of the School Inclusion Model – a new model of support for students with special educational and additional care needs.
- The School Inclusion Model, supported by €4.75m funding allocated in Budget 2019, aims to build schools’ capacity to include children with additional needs and to provide other supports for pupils.
- The achievement of better education and life outcomes for all children including those with special needs is a key element of Government policy. In 2019, over €1.87 billion will be invested in Special Education, nearly one fifth of the overall Education budget, and up 49% since 2011.
- Seventy-five schools, both primary and post-primary, in Kildare, Wicklow and South Dublin have been invited to participate in this new package of education and health supports to be piloted and evaluated in the 2019/20 school year.
- One feature of the School Inclusion Model is the continuation of the In-school Therapy Demonstration Project which provides access to therapy supports for schools and students on a tiered basis delivered by qualified speech and language and occupational therapists.
- Another element of the pilot is an enhanced Regional Support Team for schools in the pilot, under the auspices of the National Council for Special Education, which will include speech and language and occupational therapists.
- As set out in my Department’s Circular 0030/2014, while it is appropriate for SNAs to assist students to access therapy support in school, or to assist a therapist in providing support for a child or assist the child to perform therapy tasks directed by a therapist, SNAs are not responsible for the management or provision of therapy services in view of the particular skillset required to deliver therapeutic interventions.
- Approximately 13,400 Special Education teaching posts in mainstream primary and post primary schools. Special Education teachers support the mainstream class teacher by providing additional teaching support for pupils with special educational needs in schools.
- Approximately 1,600 special classes in mainstream schools for the 2019-20 school year. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) continues to engage with schools in relation to opening special classes where there is an identified need for special class provision.
- Included in the above special class total are 63 Specific Speech and Language Disorder special classes in mainstream primary schools
- 124 special schools providing specialist education for pupils with the most complex special needs.
- The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in allocating such support.
- The NCSE Support Service provides advice and support to schools on the education and inclusion of students with special educational needs, providing in-school support for support teachers, continuing professional development for teachers, and support to schools on the management of challenging behaviour.
- National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) delivers a consultative, tiered service delivery model to schools, in line with international best practice for the effective and efficient delivery of educational psychological services that best meet the needs of all pupils/students in schools. This service delivery model allows NEPS psychologists to support schools to provide an effective continuum of support to meet the needs of pupils/students.
- Assistive technology/specialised equipment where it is essential in order for students to access the curriculum, in accordance with the criteria as set out in DES Circular 0010/2013
- Enhanced capitation for special schools and special classes.